3.30 a.m.

… is as good a time as any to write a book review.

I was awake, thinking how ugly things become when past their best. How there is nothing attractive about rot. And then I remembered Jim Crace‘s excellent book Being Dead in which he creates a poetic beauty from the clinical account of two bodies decomposing on a beach. 

It’s one of my favourite novels – one of the few to make the elite list of Books To Read Again

It begins with a middle-aged couple – long-married academics, filled with quiet disappointment, subdued resentment and love – who are mugged and killed on a remote stretch of beach and left to die in the sand dunes. The story splits into several strands – one is forward-moving, taking us through the process of decomposition, the others move backwards and recount events, over three decades, which led them to this particular reminiscent walk along the beach. 

Crace writes about two ordinary people, dulled with age and conformity, scarred from events in their shared past – and does it beautifully, gently drawing Reality, all its quirks and contradictions. But it’s the secondary story, that of the decomposing bodies on the beach and the tiny world they create and sustain as they rot, which utterly compels and which works as a poetic drawn-out metaphor for the main narrative itself. 

From a purely writerly perspective, having strands running in opposite directions from one key point is a masterful conceit and has danced in my mind as an aspiration since I read the book a few years ago. I just hadn’t found the story to fit the technique… but perhaps now I have.

I’ve just been outside with a cup of tea, staring at the stars. We all look at the same sky. It’s possibly one of the only ways in which we are truly connected. In the distance, somewhere up the street, a drunk is shouting random thoughts into the night… pained noises of disappointment, disillusion and despair, aimed at nobody in particular. 

It’s probably as much as any of us ever do.


Some kind of Lovely…

Thanks to Samantha for the blog title, which is a chapter title from a favourite book and which she thought would suit this post… and it does, perfectly!

This weekend my lovely daughters gave me gifts, for no other reason than they’re Adorable Beings.

Sam drew me this gorgeous name plaque which she says represents the ‘writing me’. 

Judging by the last picture, I think she has more confidence in my future than I do… ha!

And Jess wrote this beautiful little poem. 

In case you’re wondering (as, indeed, was I), the unfortunate Ken mentioned here is that of Barbie fame… Jess wishes him dead. 

Some may read that and think I’ve spawned a monster – but I know I’ve just inflicted upon the world yet another writer. 

We also asked the Delphic Oracle what is the meaning of life? It gave us this answer:

Let there be, for a time, no driving aim;
No mission, no goal, no fury’d intent.
Notice the hours — how they lengthen and breathe:
Like dust in the sunset, thy soul’s content.

It’s not often the Oracle spouts anything other than amusing vague ramblings, but I think this is actually quite profound… and might be its finest effort yet. 


it’s after five and i went outside for a smoke listened to the bird noise that people call singing but which is actually aggressive shouting defending territory selfishly like drunks on friday night are you lookin’ at my bird or dogs pissing on lamp-posts and i haven’t been sleepless for a while but five a.m. is better than four which is depressing and leads to negative thought because five is more optimistic somehow and being awake before others oddly satisfying even when a person doesn’t get anything done other than thinking just thinking and wondering whether typing it out constitutes writing or wrist-slashing and whether indeed it matters either way but mainly just thinking about the lighter mornings and how five a.m. differs season to season country to country person to person and how for me dawn would really be better slept through until at least the summer when birds shout slightly nicer songs and my smoking chair isn’t covered in rain

In here

In here
I am words on the screen
Your own voice speaks me
A thought, a reminder, a concept
A companion called up and
dismissed at will
I am the ghost of something lost
Closer than where it was left
yet equally intangible
In here
I am more you than I am me
Static, silent, contained, filed
Anyone and no one and everyone
I am read, scanned, misread
Remembered, forgotten
Searched, deleted, repeated
Outside of here I am a person.

She wandered lonely as a cloud…

My Point of View is in crisis.

After a year of starting third person novels, over-plotting, over-thinking, losing interest, abandoning them, I was finally revisited by my Muse and began a new book. In first person.

What it says about my ego, I don’t know, but I’m lured by first person voice as a reader and as a writer… and yet we’re told, endlessly, how debut novelists should stick to third. 

So I’m experimenting with shifting this new book into third – now, before I get too far in and such a change would be a pain – and comparing the results of the first 4k words in each POV.

Something is clearly lost – a sense of moodiness, obviously the closeness – and yet I figured there must also be gains. Distance has its own value, moodiness is a matter of word order – there’s more to change than just putting “I” into “she” – and, of course, third person means no restrictions on what the narrator can see. 

But even though I think the gains do outweigh the losses, I can’t switch off that inner first person and am still thinking through story elements in that voice. I’m a Method Writer – need to be firmly in the head of a protagonist to be able to enjoy writing them, even when they’re dark, miserable and being them means teetering on the edge of their abyss…

Oh. Yes. Hang on… I’d forgotten how horrible it got writing The Sky is Not Blue, sat in a dark, windowless shed, smoking a thousand ciggies and drinking way too much wine whilst the rest of the world was outside enjoying the sunshine.

Third person it is then. Let sanity be mine.

Clubs, bills, and partisans!

Last year I discovered Manga Shakespeare and bought a couple for the kids as a little experiment. They absolutely loved them, and we’ve since bought more. I figured it a good way for them to grasp the core Shakespearean plots, and then be able to recognise these where they appear elsewhere in art, other literature, films etc. Plus it seemed a gentle introduction into Shakespearean language prior to secondary school study.

Apparently, when these books first came out in 2007 purists were horrified. The Manga versions do use Shakespeare’s text but are abridged – the purists thought this Wrong and that in taking out chunks of text the plays were reduced to mere plots and this, too, was Wrong. Feedback from the Royal Shakespeare Company and schools has been much more positive.

Yesterday we took the kids to the theatre to see Romeo & Juliet – an adult production, not something re-jigged for youngsters – and they were enthralled for two and a half hours… I don’t think Sam leaned back in her seat once – she was on the edge, silent, not taking her eyes off the stage. They absolutely loved it, understood perfectly what was happening and, where the language did fox them, still didn’t feel lost because they knew the story already (though brilliant acting throughout from the Pilot Theatre group clarified even the more obscure segments of Shakespeare’s banter).

At the interval I asked Jess, who re-read the Manga version for about the tenth time last week, what was going to happen in the second half. And she told me, naming characters and their roles in the mess which follows soppy Romeo’s banishment. I could have forgotten I was talking to an eight year old, in fact, had she not added at the end but I don’t think the actress will really kill herself, she’ll just pretend. 

I would not have sat through two and a half hours of Shakespeare at eight or eleven years old. I would have hated it, even though I did love the theatre… but not to listen to that sort of hard-to-grasp dialogue. The reason my kids loved it (and now want to go and see Hamlet this summer too!) is purely because they’ve read, and enjoyed, those Manga versions that so horrified the purists.

So, Purists, thy heads are as full of quarells as an egg is full of meat… 

(oh, and the Pilot Theatre group is taking Romeo & Juliet to London at the beginning of February – well worth checking out if that’s your neighbourhood)

Certain dark things

So much fluffy, pink, flowery stuff around today. 

I shan’t add to it. But neither shall I bang on and complain about it – nobody likes a killjoy..!

However… I prefer a little darker, less sickly – and perhaps thus more truthful – take on love, myself. 

Like this one:

I Do Not Love You (Pablo Neruda)

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.